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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

244                             THE GAY GENIUS

graphy, the critics completely ignore the meaning of the words, and
treat it essentially as an abstract composition. It is abstract painting
in the sense that, unlike painting in general, it does not try to portray
any recognisable object. Chinese characters are composed of lines and
combinations of lines put together in an infinite variety of ways, and
art requires that these characters be put together beautifully in them-
selves, and in relation to other characters on the same line or page^
As the Chinese characters are composed of the most complex elements,
they present all the problems of composition, including axis, contour,
organisation, contrast, balance, proportion, and above all, a central
unifying conception of the whole.

All problems of art are problems of rhythm, whether in painting,
sculpture, or music. As long as beauty is movement, every art form has
an implied rhythm. Even in architecture, a Gothic cathedral aspires,
a bridge spans, and a prison broods. ^Esthetically, it is possible even
to speak of the "dash" and "sweep" and "ruggedness" of a man's moral
character, which are all concepts of rhythm. The basic concept of
rhythm in Chinese art is established by calligraphy. When a Chinese
critic admires calligraphy, he does not admire it for its static propor-
tions or symmetry, but rather follows the artist mentally in his move-
ment from the beginning of a character to the end and so o<n to the
end of the page, as if he were watching a dance on paper. The
approach to this type of abstract painting is therefore different from
that of Western abstract painting. Its fundamental thesis is that beauty
is movement; and it is this basic concept of rhythm which develops
into a guiding principle of Chinese painting.                                 ^

This conception of rhythmic beauty in movement ^ changes all the
artist's concepts of line, mass, surface, composition, and material. For
if beauty is dynamic and not static, all even, straight lines and surfaces,
resembling engineers* blue-prints, are ruled out, and instead one must
seek, for instance, the twisted and uneven lines of a tree branch, for
only bending and twisting can suggest life and movement. One can
easily see the life and movement of such uneven lines where the sensi-
tive pressures, pauses and sweeps, and accidental splashes of the brush
are carefully and purposefully preserved. It may be stated as a funda-
mental principle of Chinese painting and calligraphy that straight,
even lines are abhorred and strictly taboo, except in case of necessi^
as when one is sketching the outline of a desk or table. The very con?
cept of composition is changed, too. A Chinese artist cannot be satisfied
with merely the static arrangement and contrasting of lines and sur-
faces, so long as those lines and surfaces are dead in themselves. From
here on begins the emphasis on vital lines, which accounts for the
difference between Chinese painting technique and other forms of the
same art.